Trans in the Dojo
It’s been over two years since I began taking karate lessons (for the third time in my life), a year after my transition. I began to look into lessons after deciding that I needed something in my life other then work and transition, plus I was starting to feel more secure about my presentation. Fortunately Los Angeles had a lot of different styles and traditions to choose from, but the hard part was choosing one. An internet search actually brought a specific school to the top of my list. Karate Women (now Karate Center) was operated by Sensei Maria Doest and her students for many years and teaches Shorin-ryu karate. (Sensei Maria Doest has since retired and Sensei Tamara Bosset and Hanchi Linda Gross now operate the school, but Sensei Doest still is involved with the school and is an invaluable resource for the school’s students.) I could not have found a better dojo. Sensei Doest is a sixth degree black belt in Shorin-ryu and has been teaching since 1974. She is also a very well-known figure within women’s martial arts, having been one of the first women to compete in full contact karate in Japan (fighting against both men and women) as well as being a strong proponent of women in martial arts.1 Her style is very traditional in its philosophy of martial arts, but also maintains a safe place for anyone to train regardless of background or level of ability. But how would they react to a transsexual woman in the dojo (and one that is a bit bigger then the average woman)?
My first few times were met with a few pronoun slippages by my instructors Sensei (although at the time she was only a brown belt, only black belts can be called sensei) Jade David and Sensei Doest. It was at that point that I outed myself to them, telling them that I am a transsexual woman. They took it well, and since that point in time they never had any problems with pronouns. Subsequently either I (or in the case of Senseis Doest and David informing the other instructors) outed myself to others in the class and answering their questions (which ranged from the usual to the difficult to answer), but not once did I experience any problems in terms of pronoun usuage or even with using the women’s dressing room. It truly felt to me as a safe place for me to train. I’m currently a blue belt, and hope to test for purple soon (after purple there’s three levels of brown and then black) and even have begun to take advantage of the presence of Hanchi Linda Gross (8th degree black belt in Seki-ryu Jiu-Jitsu) and began to add Jiu-Jitsu training along with Karate. I now have a blue belt in Karate and a green belt in Jiu-Jitsu, and feel very strong in my martial arts abilities.
I feel that it is important to note that martial arts was not the only thing being taught to me, but what a woman is as well. Senseis Maria Doest, Jade David, Tamara Bosset, and Hanchi Linda Gross, as well as the students, have allowed me to have such great role models to help me through my transition. I am honored to train with them and to call them my friends.